Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sunflower, king of the prairie

with 50 comments

Okay, so the title that actually popped into my head when I was on the prairie two days ago was “Sunflower, king of the universe.” As much as I liked it, it struck me as maybe a little hyperbolic, so I toned it down. This was the field of sunflowers I’d headed out to find when I stumbled across the one that brightened up the background in yesterday’s picture. A member of the Texas Wildflowers group on Facebook had shown a few pictures of this large colony, which turned out to be in the northwest quadrant of E. Howard Lane and Harris Branch Parkway way out on the Blackland Prairie in Austin’s full-purpose annexation zone.

Note: this is Helianthus annuus, the anything-but-common “common” sunflower.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 12, 2020 at 4:47 AM

50 Responses

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  1. This is a new variety of sunflower for me, but so far, in my experience, they are all well worthy of closer looks. This one’s a beaut.


    June 12, 2020 at 5:29 AM

  2. I’m still somewhat prairie deprived, but I’m not without H. annuus. Every time I drive through the road and bridge construction chaos on TX 146, I laugh at them. They’ve colonized every pile of dirt they can get their roots into, and they’re not shy about it. There are plants that have to be well above six feet tall, shining in the sun. I could turn that into a metaphor, but I’ll resist the temptation.


    June 12, 2020 at 6:44 AM

    • By the way — the Tallgrass Express might want to have a word with you about exactly who gets the title of King of the Prairie. I’m glad you enjoyed their music enough to order their album; that song is on it.


      June 12, 2020 at 6:52 AM

      • Although big bluestem does grow in central Texas, it’s not that common here. In contrast, we have sunflowers from late spring through the end of the year, with conspicuous colonies right around now. Between the two, my royalty has to be the sunflower.

        Steve Schwartzman

        June 12, 2020 at 7:05 AM

        • It just occurred to me — for a kingly flower, there’s Helianthus maximiliani , too, although we have to wait a bit for that one to appear.


          June 12, 2020 at 7:11 AM

          • You’ve made a regal point. I’ve noticed Maximilian sunflower plants coming up here already, even if they probably won’t flower till the fall. On the other hand, I’ve occasionally seen a harbinger at the height of the summer.

            Steve Schwartzman

            June 12, 2020 at 7:20 AM

    • It sometimes seems uncanny how quickly sunflowers show up at construction sites. Having some near you on piles of dirt may present you with upward-looking photo opportunities, assuming power lines and the like don’t ruin the background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 12, 2020 at 7:01 AM

  3. The sunflower is also one of our favourite flowers, especially the tall Russian variety. Alas, we will have to wait till late summer to enjoy them.

    Peter Klopp

    June 12, 2020 at 8:42 AM

    • From what I’ve gleaned online, the tall Russian sunflowers are cultivars of this wild North American species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 12, 2020 at 10:14 AM

  4. They are beautiful, and your images highlight that very well! I don’t know if they’re really the King of the Prairie but they’re the King of Summer to me. 😀🌻


    June 12, 2020 at 9:08 AM

  5. King of the Prairie is very apt, and you’ve given him his proper due with this portrait.
    Incidentally, I just heard of a book that sounds pretty good called The Last Kings of Shanghai. They were interviewing the author on NPR, coincidentally as I was on my way to the book store.


    June 12, 2020 at 9:29 AM

    • I intended to show a whole sunflower colony but ended up going with two portraits. Maybe I’ll show a colony in another post.

      I looked it up and the book does sound interesting; it’s something I’d never heard about.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 12, 2020 at 10:30 AM

      • Same here and the author sounded like he’d be interesting.


        June 13, 2020 at 7:52 AM

  6. I’m going with King of the Universe.

    Michael Scandling

    June 12, 2020 at 10:18 AM

  7. Sunflowers always bring a smile!! Lovely shots, Steve.


    June 12, 2020 at 11:09 AM

  8. Many years ago, we had a veritable sea of sunflowers at our old place in Karnes City: https://wp.me/p1wnbs-en


    June 12, 2020 at 3:43 PM

  9. It is related to the State Flower of Kansas!


    June 12, 2020 at 9:03 PM

  10. They’re probably far more beneficent and cheerful kings than any human ones. 🙂


    June 13, 2020 at 8:01 PM

  11. This is beautiful!!


    June 14, 2020 at 8:40 AM

  12. Steve, in a number of your recent posts you indicate that the photos are from The Blackland Prairie. I have looked on various maps for Round Rock and Pflugerville, but I can’t find any green area labeled as such. I have friends in Round Rock that would like to explore this prairie, as would I. Could you be more specific as to where this Blackland Prairie would be? Thanks!

    Judy T

    June 14, 2020 at 9:38 PM

    • In our area, the Blackland Prairie includes Pflugerville and the eastern portions of Austin and Round Rock. The Blackland Prairie as a whole is much larger. Because it’s an ecoregion, you won’t find it marked on regular maps, but it is shown here:


      The portion of the Blackland Prairie in this post was at the intersection of E. Howard Lane and Harris Branch Parkway. The posts showing scenes from May 4–11 came from Heatherwilde Blvd. a bit north of Wells Branch Parkway. The post that appeared here on June 4 shows a bit of prairie on Meister Pl. at the very southern edge of Round Rock.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 9:52 PM

  13. […] recent post focused on two sunflowers in a large colony. Now here’s a panorama showing how wild sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) can take over a field. […]

  14. Yellow and blue make a splendid pair and your tall sunflower looks great with the nice background of softly focused members of the colony.

    Steve Gingold

    June 17, 2020 at 5:54 PM

    • Sometimes I want everything to be sharp from foreground through background. That’s not usually possible, so a soft background is the default. I, too, like yellow and blue.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 17, 2020 at 6:28 PM

  15. I see quite a few of these along the Washita river bottom, towering over just about every wild plant in the area. Mostly though, I see them along fence lines in pastures… those and the cow pen daisies.


    June 19, 2020 at 8:01 AM

    • Sunflowers can indeed look majestic. How nice for you to see them towering above so many other plants in that river bottom. As for cowpen daisies, I’ll have a post about them next week.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 19, 2020 at 8:04 AM

  16. Lovely!
    Beautiful flower! I love the shot! 🙂

    Nuno França

    June 22, 2020 at 9:59 AM

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